Our Broken Relationship With The Society Of Brothers

This article is in response to a request by our Church Committee regarding what stand the Schmiedenleut of the Hutterian Church should take towards the Society of Brothers

by Samuel Kleinsasser, Concord Colony

A conflict has existed almost continuously between the Society (The Society of Brothers, also known as 'The Bruderhof') and the Hutterian Church, largely due to their different cultural backgrounds. Earlier this led to a split between the two groups, but was partly patched up in 1974 after the Society had behaved arrogantly and lovelessly towards the Schmiedenleut group. Now, it is not our intention or purpose here to judge and condemn the Society, but rather to bring to light why and how, in our opinion, the two cultures are incompatible due to entirely different value systems. Therefore it is our wish that the Society's members serve God in their own unique way and leave us to serve Him as we see best.
We do not see this attitude as back-slidden, indifferent or anti-biblical, as some might interpret it to be. We read in Acts 15 that the early church had a very similar problem. They left us an example of how to deal with this problem in a realistic and practical way.
In Acts 15: 28, we read that the Apostles wrote to the new converts amongst the Gentiles that "We and the Holy Spirit have agreed" that in order to qualify as Christians they need not accept the Jewish traditional practices and rituals. This brings up some questions. Why did the Apostles not consider it a 'must' that the two different cultures be blended into one? Would uniting the two not serve the overall purpose of Christianity better? Would not Christ have preferred a united, universal Church?
The reason why the Apostles chose the solution that they did makes sense and serves well as a guideline for us. Some Jews had tried to enforce their Mosaic Code and cultural attitude on the Gentiles. This resulted in confusion, chaos and internal conflict. The Apostles, prompted by the Holy Spirit, agreed amongst themselves that it would be unwise to compel two drastically different cultures to mix and blend together. For one reason, a large number of people were involved. They could not be helped on a one-to-one basis should they experience uprooting due to a sudden exposure to a different religion and culture. The effects of culture shock, disorientation and a total upheaval of moral and ethical roots would have done more harm than good.
This is what seems to be happening in our case. Mixing the two different cultures of the Hutterian Church and the Society has brought about an identical situation, similar to the disruption and confusion that the Apostles had to deal with. So we too are agreed that it is better for both each group to serve God in their own unique way.
Common sense indicates that our two cultures should not be blended because each is distinctive (and therefore incompatible), and in some areas even opposed to the other. For instance, the western communities (Hutterian Brethren) consider it better in the long run that each community exist as financially independent of each other. The reasons are many. First, because of the large number of communities. Second, it spreads the risk factors. Third, it strikes a healthier balance between central control and the individual community. The Hutterian Church's emphasis on financial independance means that they and the Society cannot share the same Articles of Association or Incorporation as well as many other practical guidelines.
Another area where common sense indicates that we do not have certain things in common is due to each group evolving out of entirely different backgrounds. Many distinctive differences exist between the two. For example, the Society places a higher value on education while we, the Hutterian Church, rely on on-the-job, practical training. Their members come from many different religious backgrounds and cultures with a variety of church practices. When these blend with our own orthodox traditions, the result is mixed-up values and confusion resulting in the uprooting of many stable, well-grounded members on both sides of the fence.
This train of thought is not merely overcautiousness on our part. We came to these conclusions because of several bad experiences when these two cultures clashed right in our midst. One very vivid case will suffice to make our point:
At first a zealous interchange of values and intermarriages was encouraged, but unfortunately it backfired. A number of Society sisters (four), in good faith and with good intentions, married four Hutterite young men and moved to the western colonies. The final result was that they had to be shipped back East because they could not adjust and survive the exposure to a different culture. The culture shock proved far too much for them to handle. No doubt this caused unnecessary pain, heartache and tears. It also unquestionably led to those hard feelings that cannot be avoided in such cases, because everybody blames everybody else for the breakdown.
It is to these differences in cultures, church doctrines, modes, practices and even ethics that we must draw attention so that we can better understand why it is unwise, destructive and even fatal in the long run to mix these two different groups in a semi-closed society.
Through hindsight, we now are fully convinced that the Society's request to join the Hutterian Church (after they had taken only a brief look) was not to conform to Hutterian customs and practices. Instead, partially due to their higher education and a different world view, they saw the Hutterian Church as naive and as a sub- culture in comparison to themselves. They saw us as a ready-made mission field, and set about recruiting converts with missionary zeal and enthusiasm, sparing neither means, expense nor time for this cause.
Let us now look more closely at some of these different modes and practices.
The Lord's Supper
The Lord's Supper holds a different meaning for the Society than for the Hutterian Church. Also it is observed differently. The Society does not celebrate the Lord's Supper in accordance with the four centuries of traditional Hutterian custom. Instead the Lord's Supper is celebrated for a variety of purposes, for example when a group after severe conflict has established peace amongst themselves. The Society's use of this highly respected memorial meal places it in a different context than the one for which our Church historically has reserved it.
It has been brought to my attention lately that the withholding of the Lord's Supper also can serve a variety of purposes within the Society. I quote from a letter from the East (the Society) to the West (Hutterian Brethren):
"Here in the East the question whether we should hold the Lord's Supper at Easter has come up. However we decided not to come to the Lord's Supper this Easter out of solidarity and love to those communities who feel that they are unable to do it because their brotherhood is not united. We would like to stand with those communities and repent with them together. If the Lord's Supper is not celebrated in some communities because Gibb's brothers and sisters are still there, the faithful ones should be encouraged."
Thus a minor point is either singled out or added, all too often in accordance with a passing fancy or mood of the then-presiding leadership. This poses the danger of altering or completely replacing the core message of the Lord's Supper as practiced by the Hutterian Church, namely that of dedicating and partaking of this highly valued meal in memory of Christ's death and atonement. In altering time-honored traditions in various ways, the Society leadership will shift deeply rooted landmarks from their original intent and location.
The Great Exclusion
To the Society, the Great Exclusion can serve a variety of purposes so that is loses its identity and purpose in a maze of abstract applications, anywhere from very minor to major offenses. For instance, contrary to Hutterian practice, ministers who had been put into the Great Exclusion -- even after they have been put into the Great Exclusion a number of times -- qualify to be reinstated into their office. In fact, if they so choose, they can volunteer for exclusion for minor offenses. This, to our way of thinking, makes light use of this serious occasion. Thus the Great Exclusion, always exercised with great caution in the past, has been altered to where it can, as mentioned above, serve for anything from minor offenses to major transgressions.
It never entered the heads of our forefathers -- nor even the present-day Hutterian Church -- to apply the Great Ban to such a variety of situations. Past guidelines become blurred and nearly non-existent when it is applied to everything from very severe moral offenses to mock humility. Volunteering for exclusion in false modesty totally forfeits and misinterprets the purpose of this practice. In the past, the Hutterian Church applied the Great Ban only for severe and immoral transgressions. To the Society, it can be utilized for a very minor offense and even as a means of 'turning over a new leaf' (as the Oakland Colony case indicated). It also is used as an equalizing method to reduce the penitent ones joyfully and willingly to everybody's level in order to achieve closeness and oneness.
Of course the Society also applies the Great Ban to grossly immoral behavior. This presents its use as typically Hutterian on the surface, but only masks the many other loose and misapplied applications, which its use at the Oakland colony and similar past happenings reveal. Our conclusion is reinforced by the thrice- published recommendation of Johann Christoph Arnold that no Servant of the Word qualifies to put anyone into the Great Exclusion unless he himself has been excluded at least twice. This teaching is totally foreign to the Hutterian Church, culture, past traditions and customs. To the Hutterian mind, this teaching is the ultimate downgrading and cheapening of our traditional use of the Great Ban. It replaces it with a foolish, rather silly- looking sentiment containing all the elements of an unbalanced emotional experience.
Does Christoph's suggestion imply that Servants of the Word, who try by the grace of God to live exemplary and blameless lives (realizing, of course, that nobody is perfect) are the last ones to qualify to place others in exclusion? Must they commit (according to our tradition) mortal sin first to qualify? Is this suggestion realistic or just artificial, mock compassion? Is it rooted in the Word of God? Or is this a case of extra-biblical revelation?
This and other similar Society excesses are dangerous extremes. They are incompatible with our culture, traditions and church practices, those very practices that our church has tried to align with the teachings of the Bible. They are shocking to the average Hutterian mind. From our viewpoint, Christoph's suggestion injects a foreign, irrational element that threatens to establish openly amongst us an entirely new custom that, if accepted, would uproot stable and secure members.
We have yet to mention the Society's heartless purges and exclusions of large numbers of members such as the one that occurred in Paraguay. Over six hundred members and their families were sent away, from the very young to the very old and feeble. The ejected brothers and sisters included many who at great cost of sweat, tears and hardships had cleared the jungle and built the Primavera communities from scratch. They were thrown out for vague and next-to-nothing reasons, excluded and left to fend for themselves at the whim of an elite handful of fiery, red-hot zealots for God's Kingdom. In the name of holy spirit zeal, they took it upon themselves to separate the (to them) lukewarm and cold from the fiery red-hot. Vain, self-glorifying, finite men who tried to play god over their fellow men, all in the name of God and the Church, end up using cruel and heartless methods to achieve their foolish ambitions.
Is The Bible The Inspired Word of God?
To the Hutterian Church, the Bible teachings are considered the final authority that should indisputably regulate a Christian's behavior. In comparison, human reason and wisdom is limited and finite, all too often tainted with rationalizations, white-wash and window- dressing. Therefore, according to Hutterian teachings, the Bible has the last word.
To the Society, this is not good enough and too restricting. To them, God speaks to this day through the Holy Spirit, and directs and even reveals new truths to His Church. Now there is some biblical basis for this teaching. It is the function of the Holy Spirit to lead us in all truths. So far, so good. But it is the Society's concept that new truths are constantly being revealed that we consider dangerous. It is this concept that we hereby challenge.
To our way of thinking, this concept has much too much in common with modern liberal theology, which uses the fundamental Christian vocabulary but attaches an entirely different meaning to it. For instance, in modern liberal theology Jesus is not central; Jesus is not in control of a Christian's life. They point out that, according to John, Jesus is a word. What word? Why the words that God speaks to us today in our hearts. By this means, they explain away Jesus as an entity, a person. God now speaks to us directly and not through second- hand means such as the Bible.
The Holy Spirit also comes under scrutiny by the Society. He is not a being, an entity. He represents an abstract movement just like the wind and not what we have understood Him to be up until now. He speaks through the collective, united fusion of the mind and spirit of the Church. So, by a play of words, He is reduced to a mere figure of speech and the door opened for extra- biblical revelations to insinuate themselves. Needless to say, the Society has not entirely sold themselves to liberal theology. But they certainly are adept at jumping back and forth whenever it serves their purpose. This is another instance of where they part company with traditional Hutterian teachings, but let us examine more closely some of the Society's teachings on this subject.
In Inner Land by the Society's founder Eberhard Arnold, we read:
"That those Words of His will be spoken in the
hearts of believers everywhere and at all times
through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we may not
say with the false prophets: "Jesus says that,
for it is written in the Bible." Rather we say with
the true prophets: "This is what the Lords says;
He says it at the present time in what is new, in
what is now in the present tense." With God,
nothing is in the past; every thing is in the present.
The revelation that goes on in the Church is the
revelation of that inner Word. God is always ready
to speak to us." (p. 511)
Who are those false prophets that he mentions? Why, the Hutterian Church and their teachings fit this description.
On the Holy Spirit, we read in The Heavens Are Open , by Eberhard, Emmy and Heini Arnold (1974):
"We know that the Holy Spirit will be the first
thing to come when the Kingdom of God comes.
When we understand this, then it is clear; that
the Holy Spirit is not a personal matter; He
never is, not in any way or in any respect! The
Holy Spirit is not a private affair. He never was,
He never is, and never will be. The Holy Spirit
is not a matter of subjective experience." (p. 118)
Here Heini Arnold goes all liberal. But when it suits another purpose, he does not hesitate to jump on the fundamentalist wagon, even if he is forced to contradict his own formulation. In order to accomplish the feat of explaining the absolute, final authority of the Bible away and promoting the idea that newer revelations should be considered equally binding, he is forced to make the Holy Spirit's presence personal again. For without the Holy Spirit's help, he states, it is impossible to understand the Bible properly. This also holds some truth, but why explain the Holy Spirit away as 'personally present' in one breath and confirm His imminence with the next?
Everything that the Bible teaches is presented in a flux, subject to extra-biblical revelations and not concrete and stable in the manner that the Hutterian Church understands it to be.
Now once the idea takes root that the teachings of the Bible are incomplete and that outside of the Bible new revelations are constantly being revealed, then the assumption does not appear too far-fetched that newer- to-us unknown truths, and newer, more refined ethics, also will be revealed to the extent that we can grasp and bear them. What will happen next is that several generations in the future, Elders will share with us (believe it or not!) that the Bible is not the Word of God (or rather he means the complete Word of God). The living Word is the Word of God that wants to speak to us, at this moment, not what He said to Moses or Elijah, or even to Jesus.
This, then, would arm Christoph Arnold with the authority and the justification to change and, if possible, to improve on the direction that his grandfather Eberhard had visualized for the Society to follow. Also, common sense comes to out aid and tells us that nothing originally is perfect and therefore stands in need of being perfected.
Let us put the Bible on the witness stand and see what it has to say in its own defense. Jesus took a stand on the Scriptures when He was tempted in the wilderness. The tempter also used Scripture in trying to bring about His fall. Therefore what Christoph writes is true, that the devil uses the Bible as a weapon. But then anything can be misused. A knife is a useful tool, people use it for good purposes, but some use it to harm their fellow man. This goes for anything that is useful and good. To the extent that it is useful, it can be misused to do evil. But that does not throw the least suspicion on its worth and usefulness. It is the same with the Bible. Time and time again Jesus took his stand on scriptural authority. Again and again he states, "Behold, it is written." He took the Scriptures as final authority when He debated with the Jews. In our Bible we frequently note an interchange between the two, "God says" when what was really meant was Scripture, "The Word of God says so-and-so." Furthermore, Jesus tells us to search the Scriptures, "For in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39)
He declares further, "Verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, not one jot or one tittle shall in any wise pass from the law." In John 10:35 He declares with finality: "Scripture cannot be broken."
Peter writes: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." Further he states: "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." Paul writes in Tim II 3:17: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrines, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect."
To some, the Society's teaching on newer, revealed revelation might sound like harmless speculation. But is it as harmless as it appears? Let us observe what changes it brings about and what the results are of these changes.
Christoph's grandfather Eberhard Arnold gleaned from the teachings of Christ that lawsuits, or dragging anybody to court, was totally wrong for a follower of Christ. Dare we say with Christoph (as his actions imply that he says, in effect) that his grandfather was somewhat mistaken and that his teachings need updating and ultra-modification? Once the Society's "Torches Together" were nearly extinguished by being swept out of Nazi-land because of their strong stand on Eberhard's teachings, and nearly extinguished a second time when they were swept into the Paraguayan jungle. But today dragging someone into court and lawsuits has ceased to be wrong for the third generation of Society leadership.
We are left to assume that new revelations have been tailored to suit the needs of the present time, thereby sheltering communities (the torches) from extinction.
Oh, how terribly primitive was the vision of Chris- toph's grandfather when he exclaimed with high expectations for his followers, "Brothers, love the earth. Be true to the earth. Jesus is the greatest friend of the earth -- Jesus again and again proclaimed love of the soil, love of the country."
We observe, two jet airplanes and four buses later, that the Society's new-generation Elders far excel the old school. They even excel their own track record, forever improving and updating their techniques for survival. Concealed guns "for self-defense and for protection of community members" is good insurance that community living will not be extinguished or completely eradicated by some trigger-happy radical movement.
When inquiries were made as to why an Elder would purchase handguns for self-protection, the answer was simple and supposedly satisfactory. The Elder Christoph and Society members often go for long hikes, and rabid skunks are not uncommon. This answer then leads to another question: how come, then, that the application was not made out "to shoot skunks?" Again the answer is equal to the question. "In the USA, it is easier to get a gun for self-protection than to get a gun to shoot skunks." This explanation, if valid, tells us that in the USA to kill or wound a person is looked upon with less concern than shooting a wild animal. Do we have to buy that kind of excuse? Or have we the right to conclude that the Bibles teaching to the 'new school' (due to newer revelations) is not as fixed as the old school took it to be? Furthermore, we must ask, do lawsuits and guns for self-protection fit into Hutterian teachings and practices? Or are we dealing here with some kind of neurosis? Isn't it high time that the Hutterian Church take a stand and break all relations with the Society?
Who Is The Head Of The Church?
To the Hutterian Church (who escaped from the tyranny of papal power) Jesus Christ is the indisputable, although invisible, head of the Church. In conjunction with other Protestant movements, they arrived at this basic truth after taking a closer look at what the Bible had to say about this matter. The teaching of the infallibility of the popes had led the masses into slavish bondage. Romanism in the name of Jesus had bled the common people white.
History, both before and since, has furnished us with many examples of how wherever and whenever fallible human beings are enshrined and elevated to a divine level, that church or society was reduced to an anemic and pallid condition.
Hutterian literature and their Confession of Faith by Peter Rideman testifies to this basic truth as being the very foundation, the life blood and heartbeat of Christianity.
Ever since the Hutterian Church have taken the Bible as their final authority, they have gleaned this profound truth from the Bible. And as long as they give paramount priority to this teaching, that Jesus alone is the head of His Church, then they can, both collectively and individually, remain a liberated, free people.
The Hutterite Church of today protests again the veneration and idolizing of Eldership by the Society of Brothers. The position of the Society is understandable, because the very nature of their organization (central control over a large group of people spread widely over the globe) cannot function properly unless some sort of divine qualities are attributed to the leadership. This keeps the subjects submissive and under the control of an elite few who cannot be removed by popular vote. It stands to reason that if some persons in a society are elevated and idolized, then the others are automatically reduced to submissive underlings.
Central Control
Unfortunately the Hutterite Church (especially the Schmiedenleut group) has gravitated towards the ideal of central control. Furthermore, the leadership had an eye on a common purse, but felt this ideal might sound too radical to the rank-and-file. So Church taxes were introduced to build up a church fund, and other similar money-making schemes were gradually introduced, which in many cases led to a forced submission on the part of various communities in order to achieve this end.
Veneration of Eldership
Finally, for the first time in Hutterian history, this 'package deal' of veneration of the Eldership was introduced as an aid to control the common people. But before this could be successfully accomplished, the conscience of the common brotherhood had to be warped and reconditioned to accept this new ideal.
We feel that veneration of Eldership, which goes hand-in-hand with granting too much power to this office, was to a large extent imorted from the Society. For this reason, we will trace its effect on the Hutterian Church.
Veneration of Eldership, in order to be effective, was introduced in religious garb, the better to mislead and sell the common brotherhood into religious bondage. This was done by the former Elder himself and a handful of like-minded idealists. In order to prove this point, we will include some short extracts from correspondence and speeches that will deliver concrete evidence and prove that we are being led into that direction.
In one instance the former Elder, Jakob Kleinsasser, openly declared that he, as Elder, was head of the Church:
"But then unsuitable or suitable as far as we
are concerned, we have submitted our whole
selves with our minds and our understanding
as well, and so we have to be obedient no matter
how we are instructed. Who does not know that
as soon as Eldership is taken from us we would
be doomed -- it would be finished. It would be
like taking the head off the body -- that is the
end of life of the body. You may think I am over-
stressing it. I am not. We know that the complete
destruction of all of us lies in this. If God were to
take away our Eldership, we would be finished."
Next we quote from a counter-letter:
"Further on, one minister, who is very high up
"on the social ladder and who represents a
"powerful leading voice in settling socially
"related disputes, stated on several occasions
"with emphasis that in the spiritual realm, an
"Elder or Elder's office is exalted to the right
"hand of God. Anybody resisting him touches
"God's eye apple. It appears that some ministers
"and common people have been duped into
"partly believing such unscriptural exaggerations,
"which have been invented to scare people into
"such a fearful state of mind, that due to this
"man-made, warped fear of God, they cannot,
"because they dare not, think objectively,
"rationally, much less scripturally on such issues."
Another quote:
"Where does the current teaching come from,
where some high up on the social ladder tell the
common brotherhood, never touch the Elder, do
not criticize him for default, for he is God's ordained
holy ark. Whoever touches him brings upon himself
God's wrath and death. Where does one find this
completely-out-of-context teaching in the Bible?
Never once does the Bible teach that Elders are
Holy Ark material. What, then, does the Bible teach
about the Holy Ark? Hebrews 8:5 and 9:24 teaches
that Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary,
which is only a symbol of the true one, which is
heaven itself. The Bible teaches that the holy ark
is a symbol of heaven; never does it equate it with
a holy office."
What does our former Elder have to say on this matter? In his written defense on the Starlight community meeting, he makes the same claim concerning his office. Just like the Israelites of old were not permitted to come closer than two thousand feet to the holy ark, so today nobody has the right to tackle an Elder... Now if the Elder himself believes and promotes such false teaching concerning his office, are we surprised that his close associates harp the same tune?
In a taped message before a fairly large audience, he put his seal of approval on the false teaching that an Elder is the overall head of the Church, and that those who say otherwise are out to destroy the true Church. No mention is made of the biblical teaching that Jesus Christ is the sole head of the true Church. If the Elder had mentioned this, the point that he was trying to make would have fallen apart at the seams. His whole aim with this taped message was to draw attention to himself and to his office. To sum up his message, the meaning was clear: Me first, Jesus second. What an appalling situation to find oneself in!
What do some of his supporters have to say on this matter? One of them writes:
"Even if Jake Vetter would have done all those
things that he is accused of, still no human being
has the authority to remove him. Nor can he be
replaced by mere human beings, as is being tried.
He has been placed in his position as Elder by God,
and none other than God can remove him." One
witness brother declared: "Even if Jake Vetter
had committed gross immorality, no human being
has the right to judge him. He is accountable only
to God, because nobody in the Church is above
him, therefore nobody can judge him."
Of course a person who speaks like this must know that something is wrong, something is missing, but at the same time he cannot put his finger on it. Truth for him has been modified to include that an Elder, because of the office he holds, is untouchable. He is of course aware that the Elder is at fault, but the false teaching overrides and therefore he comes up with such a ridiculous answer.
The veneration of Eldership already has taken root in many people's minds, and already received a large reception by many because of their warped fear of God. Even if they are aware of defaults of the Elder, even if they are reminded that several Elders in the past were removed from office because of defaults, it does not register. They stick to their guns and against all reason and logic insist that an Elder is untouchable because his office is for life. We may well ask, "Is an Elder above the law?" Could we not say the same thing about all ministers, stewards and farm managers who in our society serve in these positions for life? True, they are there for life, but with the understanding that they play the game by the rules or else they get penalized. If they transgress or break the rules, they are held accountable.
The untouchability of the Elder will not hold water because it is a foolish statement. How many ministers and stewards, and even Elders (as mentioned before) were removed from their offices over the years because they had violated Hutterian canons and misused their power? During the former Elder's era, they fell like bowling pins because they violated Hutterian regulations. Some even fell into disgrace only because they were anti- establishment-prone. Some were taken to task because they made the disrespectful remark that "An Elder was a mere man like all of us."
The teaching that Elders represent a special breed is totally opposed to the spirit of Christ. It is an anti-christ teaching. Their mark of distinction, their outstanding trait, is that they excel as shepherds of their flock and not as rulers.
Jesus teaches, "Call no man father or master, or not even teacher, for one is your Master and Teacher, the Messiah." Furthermore Jesus teaches: "If any man desires to be first, let him be the last of all."
Striving for higher office is the work of the same spirit that brought strife into heaven, which in turn brought Christ down from heaven to die. Lucifer, the son of the morning star, surpassing in glory all angels, said, "I will be like the most high!" This desire for self-exaltation brought strife into heaven. Had Lucifer really desired to be like God, he would never have deserted his appointed place in heaven. The spirit of God is ALWAYS expressed in unselfish ministry!! The trouble was that Lucifer desired God's power, but not His unselfish character. He sought the highest position for himself, and every being who seeks a higher place is activated by the same spirit. Wherever this comes to the foreground, discord and disharmony are inevitable.
The kingdom of Satan is a kingdom of force and competition, where every individual regards others either as obstacles that hinder him on his way up or as stepping stones on which he may climb to a higher place.
Concerning Jesus we read in Phil 2:8: "He humbled Himself and walked the path of obedience all the way to death on a cross. Therefore God raised Him to the highest place above, and gave Him the name that is greater than any other name."
Who Is The Head Of The Church?
What has the Bible to say on the subject? In Ephesians 1:22 we read: "And (God) has put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is the body." Eph 4:15: "But speaking the truth in all love may grow up in Him who is the head, even Christ. Eph 5: 23: "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church. Colossians 1:18: "For He is the head of the body, the Church, the first born from the dead, that in all things He might have preeminence. Col 2:10: "And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principalities and power."
The Bible places Jesus many times as ruler over the whole creation. In Revelations 1:18 we read: "I have authority over death and the world of death." Phil 2:10: "All beings in heaven and on earth will fall on their knees and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord." Rev 17:14: "But the Lamb with all His chosen and faithful followers, will defeat them, because He is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords."
Peter in the face of death declared boldly before the Jewish High Council in Acts 4:12: "Salvation is to be found through Him alone. In all the world there is no one else whom God has given, who can save us (except Jesus Christ)."
Concerning his office, Jesus said, "To me has been given all authority in heaven and on earth." Furthermore, Jesus declares, "I and the Father are one. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. Nobody comes to the Father but by me. I am the bread of life. I am the water of life. He that drinks of this water shall thirst no more, I am the Light of the world."
In the past, Hutterian Elders came and went. Each was with us only a few years. They did let their light shine, but were only a small candle in comparison to Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, who has existed from all eternity and will remain eternal ruler of all creation. Yet some puffed-up idealists are trying to convince us that an Elder because of his office, qualifies to sit on an elevated throne on the right side of God. This teaching is anti- biblical to the nth degree! The Bible teaches that the Lamb of God, who died to save the whole world, alone qualifies to sit at the right hand of God.
Furthermore, this teaching is anti-hutterian. Hutterian Elders in the past were plain, simple, God- fearing brothers. No fanfare was attached to their office. They lived and died as simple, artless, above-board brothers who laid no claim to special treatments. They wore no special uniform, no badge to distinguish themselves from the common brotherhood. In fact, it is a Hutterian trademark that they had developed a keen aversion to the many titles and special offices that the Catholic clergy had established.
Lately we have experienced a comeback of that spirit against which our forefathers protested, in that the office of Eldership has become a mark of distinction. For instance, if one did not support the former Elder, or as in some cases people confessed that they were not in full agreement with some of his proposals, then they could not participate in the Lord's Supper. So the Elder's cause stood neck-to-neck and shared the limelight with Jesus.
A spirit of special privilege came to the fore, whereby the Elders and their close kin felt entitled over others to take rest periods in the Bahamas or other such tropical resorts at the expense of the common brotherhood. When compared to past practices, this is nothing short of outrageous, an insult to the simplicity and self-denial of former Elders. But more than anything else, it is an insult to the simplicity of Jesus, the one-and-only worthy, true and genuine head of the Church. As one Christian writer so clearly described the earthly status of Jesus:
"He (Jesus) was born in an obscure village. He
worked in a carpenter shop until He was 30.
He then became a wandering preacher. He
never held an office. He never had a family
or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He
had no credentials but Himself. He was 33
when the public turned against Him. His friends
ran away. He was turned over to this enemies
and went through the mockery of a trial. He was
nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He
was dying, His executioners gambled for his
clothing, the only property he had on earth. He
was laid in a borrowed grave. Nineteen centuries
have come and gone, and today He is the central
figure of the human race. All the armies that ever
marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the
parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that
ever rules, have not affected the life of man on
this earth as much as that One Solitary Life. Jesus
who died on that cross for my and your sins."
If the Hutterian Church were a perfect Church, we would not need Him that much. But because of the very fact that we are imperfect and full of blemishes, we cannot afford to be without Him. He took the full burden of our sins and shortcomings upon Himself. When we appear before God's throne, we have no intention of denying our shortcomings, but we intend to acknowledge Him as our Righteousness. He, Jesus alone, is the head of the Church, as all Hutterian literature and our Confession of Faith testifies. It is the mark of Protestantism, in protest against Romanism, that they refused to recognize the pope as a replacement for Jesus here on earth.
We, the Hutterite Church of the past and present, also refuse to acknowledge and recognize a human being as head of the Church. We accept and respect Elders as co-fighters and soul tenders, but to Jesus alone according to biblical instructions, will we honor, praise, glorify and worship. He bought us with His blood, and since He bought us, He is our Master and Lord. Another area against which we protest is systematic mind control, where submission and subordination to leadership becomes a total and unconditional requirement. It is presented as a high achievement and as a higher religious expectation.. But extreme self-denial leads to self-annihilation, in which people stand in danger of losing their ability to think for themselves, leaving those in the leadership role to do their thinking for them. As one ex-Bruderhof member shared with me in a letter:
"I remember with painful clarity, realizing just
before we left, that I no longer knew what I
as an individual soul, felt about any issue at all.
I knew what 'the Brotherhood's attitude' was to
this or that, if questioned, or what my attitude,
as a loyal member of the Brotherhood, should be.
But I realized, almost with horror, that I could no
longer say what I thought about anything at all.
Thinking back, I remember it took me about three
years before I knew, for certain, that if anyone
asked me what I thought about this or that issue,
I could at last tell them. I can still remember my
feeling of relief and freedom."
Mind control is strengthened by exclusion for protesting against the leadership. Lengthy written and verbal confessions are demanded. This debased practice has gained a foothold and was put into practice in some Hutterian communities. Whole communities who had fallen into disgrace with the Elder and his aids were examined, interrogated, and all members forced to write letters of confession. Fear and terror became the lot of those selected communities, and this sent similar waves of fear into neighboring communities. The rights of individuals to express themselves thus became restricted and in many cases went completely underground. Fortunately, the majority refused to submit and finally took a stand against this practice.
What was mainly in the majority's favor was that they had not been indoctrinated from a tender age into the theory that self-annihilation should be a highly coveted prize and a high ideal. This religious requirement, when harnessed to serve the wrong, is one of the worst bondages one can suffer. Nevertheless the damage done was so far-reaching that many communities today are still trying to recover from these excesses and extreme measures.
We protest against such new-to-us soul-terrifying methods, and resolve to stick to the old Hutterian custom of a milder form and moderate ways of dealing with the transgressions of our fellow man. It is the extremes, which bear all the earmarks of fanaticism, that we prefer to avoid. As we noted with Christoph, in one case he tried to evoke artifical compassion by undergoing exclusion himself to get the proper feeling going, yet at the same time he dealt heartlessly, cruelly, and even soul- torturingly, with his fellow man.
Another area where we protest is the undemocratic manner of choosing an Elder within the Society. In practice they gravitate towards a family and blood line selection of Elders that caters to both a holier-than-others attitude and a dictatorial leadership.
Our list of protests could continue, but we feel that these pages are sufficient to make clear that we, the Schmiedenleut group, think that it is high time that we make a formal and written statement that we too, in unity with our Leherleut and Dariusleut brethren, break relationship with the Society of Brothers. Intercourse with them has resulted in much danage and division amongst ourselves. It is so far-reaching that it will in all probability never be healed again. The year 1955 has been repeated, only this time the Society gained entrance by the front door and, since 1974, the damage and devastation has been a hundred times greater.Yet in faith we will reach out and contend that God is in control, and that all things that God permits will work out for good, for those who love the Lord.
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